I can’t believe this is something that actually has to be said, but there’s another situation where an innocent kid is paying dearly for the ignorance of others, and on behalf of all tinkerers and lovers of machines, I want to re-iterate: there are things that use electronics that are not bombs, morons.

Of course, the situation that happened in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Irving — where 14-year old Ahmed Mohamed brought a home-made digital clock to school and was arrested on suspicion for making a bomb — has, sadly, many issues relating to Mohamed’s ethnicity and religion.

But it also has a lot do with colossal ignorance of basic technology from the adults around him.

And that’s why I’m writing this now. Sure, it’s not directly car-related, but so many of us that work on cars and tinker with our cars find ourselves in situations where we’re using wires and small circuit boards and transformers and whatever. We’re all really brothers and sisters with Mohamed, in that we have a fascination with what technology can do and a healthy urge to tinker and try things.


And that means we occasionally travel with toolboxes of wires and half-finished projects, and our workspaces often are cluttered with all sorts of parts. Look, I’ll take a picture of my own workbench, right now — it’s right here next to me:

You know what’s not being made in all that mess? A bomb. You know what that kid in Dallas wasn’t making? A bomb. You know what his teachers and principal wouldn’t know if it bit them in the ass? A fucking bomb.


This is by no means the first time this has happened. Remember back in 2007, where the city of Boston freaked out over some LED signs with an Aqua Teen Hunger Force character on them? Or when the MIT student with an LED-enhanced hoodie was arrested at an airport? She was charged with making a “fake bomb,” just like this kid in Dallas may be charged with making a “hoax bomb.”

So, global idiots, spit the worms out of your mouths and pay attention: it’s possible to build something with electronic components that isn’t a fucking bomb, and isn’t intended to be a ‘hoax bomb.”

Got me? There’s more than three classes of electronic things in the world. It’s not all “Apple products, bombs, and hoax bombs.” And the tiniest fucking bit of education could make this all clear.


Here’s a good quick rule of thumb — if you see something with electronic parts, it’s only likely a bomb if it has, you know, something that can actually blow up. Here’s some pictures of improvised explosive devices:

... and here’s the inside of a clock-radio:


sure, they both have wires and capacitors and buttons and whatever, but you’ll note that all the things that can blow up have some sort of explosive — a mortar round, a pipe filled with explosives, putty-looking plastic explosives, etc. If you don’t see any large enclosed mass like that that’s not a battery, chances are overwhelmingly good you’re safe.

You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to just know some very basic things. Look for components that do something (LEDs, speakers, lights, displays), a power source (battery, transformer, etc) and try not to panic. Not all electronic parts put together=bomb. Your actual chances of encountering a bomb are TINY.

In the case of the kid who got arrested, he actually had an engineering teacher who could have seen in seconds that what Mohamed made was just a digital clock. But it doesn’t look like anyone even asked him before assuming it was a bomb and calling the police. And then to even talk about charging this kid with making a ‘hoax bomb’ — that’s like trying to get someone arrested for solicitation because you think only prostitutes wear tight pants, or something.


Don’t turn off your brains because movies have made you think all bombs look like boxes with wires and digital clocks. Oh, and leave this kid alone, already. Tinkering is how we get our Steve Wozniaks and Elon Musks and all those other people that make our modern lives so fun. Tinkering is how we learn.

Actually, I have a better idea: the people that assumed this was a bomb should be court-ordered to take a basic electronics class, and their final project should be to build young Ahmed Mohamed a small machine, with wires and LEDs and whatever, that says “I’m so fucking sorry I was an idiot” when he pushes a button.

That seems fair.

Contact the author at jason@jalopnik.com.